Cruz places hold on Biden commerce pick over lack of commitment on Huawei blacklist

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Republican Sen. Ted Cruz placed a hold on President Biden’s Commerce Department secretary nominee after she declined to promise specifically to keep Chinese telecom giant Huawei on a U.S. trade blacklist, he said.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voted 21-3 to approve Democratic Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s nomination on Wednesday, moving her toward a floor vote on whether to confirm her as head of the agency. Only Cruz and fellow Republican Sens. Rick Scott of Florida and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee voted against her.

“I’ll lift the hold when the Biden admin commits to keep the massive Chinese Communist Party spy operation Huawei on the Entity List,” Cruz tweeted Thursday night.

A source familiar with Cruz’s thinking contended to the Washington Examiner that “every couple of hours, there’s a new worrying sign that the Biden administration is rushing to embrace China” and “Cruz is doing his best to give people the space and time to at least talk about these radical changes.”

Huawei is one of a number of Chinese companies added to the Bureau of Industry and Security’s “entities list” for its role in the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance of its Uighur Muslim population, restricting the company’s and its suppliers’ access to U.S. products and technology.

Republican Chairman Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who is handing over the gavel to the Democrats on the committee, said Wednesday that “I do remain concerned about the governor’s reluctance to state unequivocally that she intends to keep Huawei on the department’s entity list,” but he nevertheless voted for her, saying he was “encouraged” by her commitment to work with the committee.

Cruz asked Raimondo last week if she would commit to keeping those companies on the blacklist, and when pressed about Huawei, she said, “I will review the policy, consult with you, consult with industry, consult with our allies, and make an assessment as to what’s best for American national and economic security.”

Raimondo would use the “full tool kit at my disposal to the fullest extent possible to protect Americans and our network from Chinese interference or any kind of backdoor influence into our network,” she said later in her testimony.

In follow-up written answers to Cruz and others, Raimondo expounded upon the challenge posed by Huawei but did not specifically commit to keeping the Chinese company on U.S. blacklists.

“With respect to Huawei, let me be clear: telecommunications equipment made by untrusted vendors is a threat to the security of the U.S. and our allies,” Raimondo said. “We will ensure that American telecommunications networks do not use equipment from untrusted vendors and will work with allies to secure their telecommunications networks and make investments to expand the production of telecommunications equipment by trusted U.S. and allied companies.”

She noted: “Huawei’s ties to China’s military, human right abuses, and theft of intellectual property have rightly been a source of bipartisan concern, regulatory action, and legislation.”

The Biden pick is likely to face at least some further resistance on the Senate floor, with Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, and Ben Sasse sending her a letter on Friday urging clarity because Huawei “has a long track record of economic espionage, supporting human rights abuses in the PRC and elsewhere, and supporting the regime’s capture of foreign political elites” and because it “has not changed alongside the U.S. presidency.”

Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on House Foreign Affairs, wrote a letter to the Senate with nearly two dozen fellow representatives, saying that “we urge those Senators who have a history of calling for Huawei to remain on the Entity List to stick to their principles.”

The Senate is split 50-50, with Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them having a tiebreaker vote in Vice President Kamala Harris.

Huawei was added to the entity list in May 2019 because the company and its affiliates “engaged in activities that are contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interests,” the Commerce Department explained in December 2020. The Bureau of Industry and Security, which is an agency within the Commerce Department, amended its foreign-produced direct product rule in May 2020 to “target Huawei’s acquisition of semiconductors that are the direct product of certain U.S. software and technology,” and in August 2020, it announced even broader restrictions.

The Trump administration engaged in a broad effort to limit Huawei’s global reach, especially in the area of fifth-generation wireless, pushing its “Five Eyes” international partners to reject Huawei technology.

The Justice Department charged the Chinese giant with racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets worldwide, and in June 2020, the Defense Department released a list of companies operating in the United States that the Pentagon believes are tied to the Chinese military — including Huawei.

Biden “has called the oppression of the Uighurs a genocide, and he stands against it in the strongest possible terms,” Emily Horne, the spokeswoman for Biden’s National Security Council, told the Washington Examiner in January.

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